Pollinators are a vital part of the tree fruit and nut industry. This week marks USDA’s National Pollinator Week to recognize the importance bees and other pollinators play in agriculture. USDA has announced two initiatives in support of the President’s National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators. This announcement was made in conjunction with National Pollinator Week and in advance of the seventh annual Pollinator Week Festival.
USDA says farmers and ranchers are creating at least 15 million acres of healthy forage and habitat for pollinators.
“Pollinators are small but mighty creatures who need our help as much as we need theirs, and that is why USDA is dedicating resources from all corners of our department to boost their habitat and better understand how to protect them,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “In addition to creating healthy habitat and food for pollinators through our conservation work, USDA research is leading to breakthroughs in pollinator survival that may reverse the declines we’ve seen over the past few decades. We look forward to continued collaboration with America’s beekeepers and honey producers to ensure this work is meaningful and effective.”
USDA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with two honey bee organizations, the American Honey Producers Association and the American Beekeeping Federation. This partnership will ensure USDA’s conservation initiatives include pollinators and that beekeepers understand how they can benefit from USDA’s conservation and safety net programs.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) also plays a critical role in the delivery of programs that provide a safety net for beekeepers who experience losses due to natural disasters, and the agency administers the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program, which provides assistance for the loss of honeybee colonies, in excess of normal mortality, due to Colony Collapse Disorder or other natural causes. These groups have helped to ensure that these safety net programs work well, and they have helped focus research to learn more about the impacts of USDA programs and make continuous improvements.
A thorough review of USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has revealed that farmers and ranchers across the country have created more than 15 million acres of healthy habitat and forage for pollinators through the Conservation Reserve Program. Of these, 269,000 acres are enrolled in a pollinator-specific initiative, but these creatures are also helped by several other CRP initiatives on private land that provide wildflowers, shrubs, and safe nesting sites through measures that are intended to improve water quality or create bird habitat.
Since then, USDA has more than tripled the acreage enrolled in CRP’s pollinator initiative, through which USDA helps to cover the cost of planting pollinator-friendly wildflowers, legumes, and shrubs, and USDA has increased the limit on this initiative in response to landowner demand so that more acres can be enrolled in the future.
USDA conducted the high-level review of existing conservation practices and other studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and universities to determine which voluntary conservation practices benefit pollinators. FSA continues to work with USGS to assess which strategies work best to support pollinator health, and future studies may indicate that additional acres also can be considered pollinator friendly.
In its 30th year, CRP provides incentives to farmers and ranchers with the cost of establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and develop wildlife habitats on marginally productive agricultural lands. This helps to combat global climate change and provides resiliency to future weather changes. This analysis shows that among its many other benefits, CRP also is extraordinarily beneficial to protecting and promoting pollinator species, from honeybees to monarchs, that are essential to agricultural health.